Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Sex, Steam, and Snow--"Meltdown"
I think this had better be my last month on the Grip. I've been repeating myself, struggling to think of new approaches to themes, and then rambling on too long when I think of something. This time, on my final promo post, I'm still going to go on too long, but with a complete story that I may only leave up through December. It appears in my collection Wild Rides.
"Meltdown" is a very seasonal story, not about any holidays, but feeling exceptionally appropriate right now since I've already coped with eighteen inches of snow from a single storm this year. Too bad I don't have access to a real sauna like the one in the story, or, even better, to characters like the ones here in complex couplings. Then again, since I've created them, I guess I do know them, and can sweat in the steam and roll in the snow with them better than anyone else could.
Fair warning: A friend has mentioned I seem to specialize in stories with characters who are already in relationships, or at least have histories with each other. That's certainly true with this piece, and in fact I've written two previous stories about one of the couples. I've found that many fans of romance don't like to bother with established relationships, so if that's your opinion--well, try this one anyway.
“Some piece of work you got there.” Sigri jerked her head toward the door. Or maybe she was just flicking a trickle of sweat out of one eye, since her hands were occupied with hammering a rod of red-hot iron into submission. She’d been wearing goggles but shed them when we came in. “Ought to keep a shorter tether on your toys, Roby.”
It was just as well Maura had already flounced out in a snit when she realized that we weren’t going to focus on her—although Maura’s every movement was far too elegant to be termed “flouncing.” Even when she’d knocked over a short trollish creature built using trowel hands and garden-rake teeth, tried to right it, got those long auburn waves that had sold ten million crates of shampoo tangled in another contraption, and knocked that one over, too, her taut ass was as elegant as it was enticing. She could have been modeling those stretch ski pants for a fashion spread in Vogue. Probably had been, in fact, when she’d been here in New Hampshire in October for an autumn leaves photo shoot. Now, in January, the outfit suited the snow coming down outside.
Sigri’s boi, Rif, edged deftly among the metal sculptures, righting the ones Maura had knocked over, touching some of the others as though they were friends. Or lovers. In their shadows, her slight body and pale short hair were nearly invisible. She hadn’t spoken a word since I’d been here. Now, at a gesture from Sigri, she followed Maura out of the barn.
Maura needed to be the center of attention. Someplace deep inside being in the spotlight terrified her, but she still craved it. She didn’t know how lucky she was that Sig and I had been ignoring her, catching up on old times and our lives over the past twenty years. She’d brought us together for her own convoluted purpose and pushed me over the edge of anger into rage once I knew what she was up to. Could have been part of her plan; Maura’s plans were never straightforward. I didn’t care whether she was listening outside the door or not.
“I’m not her goddamned keeper!”
“No? Somebody sure ought to be, and I get the impression she thinks it’s you.”
I perched gingerly on the seat of an antique hay baler stripped of its wheels, waiting its turn to be cannibalized into parts for the scrap metal beasts and demons Sig sold to tourists and the occasional high-end craft gallery. “Not a chance. Don’t tell me she hasn’t been trying you on for size.”
Sig concentrated more intently than necessary on the metal she was bending across the edge of her anvil. “‘Trying’ is the word, all right.” Her hammer came down hard. “The magazine crew was doing a photo shoot down the road with my neighbor’s big black Percheron mare close by and sugar maples in the background. Rif hung around watching, kind of dazzled by the glitz, I guess, so when Maura asked about the weird iron critters out front here, Rif dragged her to the barn to see more. I knew you’d worked with her—Rif keeps some of those fashion mags around for some strange reason, and I don’t deny taking a look now and then. Just to see whether your name’s in the small print as photographer, of course. Not for those skinny-ass models.” That brazenly lecherous grin was just the way I remembered it.
“Yeah, Maura has a thing for sharp scary things, the weirder the better. So I guess one thing led to another?”
“One thing led to—zip! Nothing but some crazy maze of ‘yes…no…wait, maybe…’ Does she have any fucking idea what she wants? Won’t negotiate, won’t submit, won’t bend, likes to be hurt but mustn’t be marked anyplace it would show when she models bikinis. I tell you, Roby, I don’t have the energy anymore for games like that. No topping from the bottom.” One more hammer blow and a curse, and then the warped metal was cast into a tank of water where it hissed as it cooled. From what little I’d glimpsed, I didn’t think it had turned out as Sig intended.
“She doesn’t know what she wants until she gets it,” I said. “Looks like just now she thinks she wants it from you.” And she has the gall to want me to show you how to give it to her. I’d given in to Maura’s pleas to come back with her to the Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire for a long weekend visit with my old friend Sigri, which did sound tempting, and then just as we arrived at the farmhouse, Maura had told me casually that she wished I’d teach Sigri the right way to hurt her. I had never come closer to hurting her in all the wrong ways.
“Screw it. I wouldn’t have bothered at all if Rif hadn’t been all for it.” Sig pulled off her heavy leather apron and straddled a wooden bench. “Why’d she drag you here, then? Not that I’m not glad to see you. Every time I see your name on one of those photo spreads in a nature magazine I think about getting in touch, but somehow I never get around to it.” She considered me for a moment, the fire from the forge casting a red glow over her square, sweaty face and muscular arms. “Good thing you moved on from the fashion ads racket. Your stuff is too good for that.”
“The fashion biz pays better.” I didn’t quite meet Sig’s gaze. “I still do it once in a while.”
“You didn’t come when Miss Fancypants threw a fit last October and insisted they had to get you because she wouldn’t work with anybody else. So why now?”
“I was in Labrador on assignment from the Sierra Club magazine! And next month I head for Patagonia. In any case, I do have my limits. The guy they had here was good and needed the work.” I looked her full in the face—a face I’ve seen in my dreams through the years more often than I’d like to admit. “This location is a big draw, though. So many memories…”
“Ohhh yeah!” Her smile this time was slow, reflective, and genuine. I wondered what she was remembering. My second most vivid image from those days was Sigri’s fine broad, muscular butt in tight jeans twenty feet above me on the face of Cathedral Ledge.
We’d been casual friends, members of a fluctuating group of dykes renting this very same farmhouse for a few weeks in the summer while we hiked and climbed, and again in the winter as a ski lodge. Both of us usually had a girlfriend in tow, but when it came to rock climbing, we trusted each other and no one else. Even on easy climbs with iron bolts not more than twenty-five feet apart, when you take the lead with a belaying rope and call "Watch me," you damned sure need to know that when your partner on the other end answers "Go for it, I've got you," she has absolutely got you, her end of the rope firmly anchored, and will hold on if your grip fails or a rock edge breaks away and you start to plummet down the unforgiving cliff face.
We’d only admitted to figuring in each other’s fantasies back then as mead companions, playing at being Viking warriors ravaging villages side by side as we bore off not-unwilling maidens. She still wore her yellow hair in that thick Viking braid down her back; I couldn’t tell in this unreliable light whether there were silver strands mixed in with the gold. My own dark cropped hair was still more pepper than salt, but not by much.
“Well, you’re here now, and I’m glad. No need to let that glitzy bitch spoil things.” She put away her tools and adjusted the damper on the furnace to let the fire die down. “Think we could make her sleep out here in the barn?”
“Not unless we made it seem like her own idea. Which isn’t impossible.”
“Never mind for now. Rif’ll show you your room, and once you’re settled in, we’ll eat dinner. She’ll have it the oven by now.”
“Rif sounds like a real treasure.”
“More than I deserve, that’s for sure,” Sig muttered, almost too low for me to hear. She made for the door. I followed, admiring that rear view the way I used to when no one was looking. Just a bit broader now, but even more muscular since she’d turned to blacksmithing. The front view had been admirable, too, but harder to enjoy covertly. Back then butch buddies did not openly ogle each other’s chests, and things hadn’t changed in that department. I could tell now that it was still remarkable, even hidden behind the leather apron shielding her from any runaway sparks or splinters of metal.
Snow was building up fast along the short path from the barn to the house, piling the existing banks along the sides even higher. Good thing we didn’t have to drive anywhere tonight. Maura had damned well better not make me wish we could get away.
Dinner was maple bourbon-glazed salmon with hot cornbread, mushroom risotto, and tossed salad with pecans and dried cranberries. Perfection. Rif was perfection, too. Maybe too perfect. Her cooking was excellent, and her serving of it—well, let’s just say she epitomized service in more ways than one while managing to sit for long enough to eat her own food. Quiet, efficient, never speaking without being spoken to, anticipating our needs, all with downcast eyes, at least whenever I glanced at her. Just the same, I could feel her gaze on me from time to time, and I was pretty sure she was sizing up Maura, too.
Maura was sizing up Rif right back, maybe taking notes on how to appeal to Sigri. At least she was putting on a pretty good demure act. Sig and I were wallowing in nostalgia, swapping recollections of cliffs we’d climbed, mountains we’d summited, ice walls we’d conquered, and après-ski orgies we’d enjoyed the hell out of.
Finally, when we were about done eating our desserts of individual pumpkin custards and sipping Rif’s excellent coffee, Sig turned to Maura like a good host. “How about you, Maura? Done any climbing?”
“Oh yes, I’ve been on some jaunts with Roby out in the Sierras.” She gave that trademark toss of her head that made strands of chestnut mane drift across one or another of her perfect breasts. Her navy silk shirt was conservative but clingy in all the right places. “You know how it is, though, hiking with somebody so much older, having to take things slower than you’d like.”
Sig shot me a “what the fuck!” look.
Okay, Maura was asking for it. I smiled, genuinely amused, but also irritated as hell. “Got a mouth on her, hasn’t she. Don’t worry. It’s just that insults are the best Maura can manage as foreplay.”
“So how does that work out for her?”
Maura’s glare in my direction was weakened by her belated realization that Sigri was just as old as I was.
“Depends on the circumstances. The last time she called me too old, she was already spread-eagled, tied to the four corners of a tent frame, and demanding to be gagged.”
Rif’s eyes flashed wide open for just a second. Sig nodded judiciously. “I can see getting a little something out of that.”
“What I got was a bent tent frame. What Maura got was my mark in a place even a bikini won’t reveal.”
Maura apparently decided to go with the flow. “Isn’t it cute,” she said with a sultry smile, “the way old folks’ memories get so fuzzy?”
Sigrid leaned forward and looked from Maura to me. “More foreplay?”
“Well, she seems to think so. It’d be cute if it weren’t so juvenile.”
Sig almost asked another question, thought better of it, pushed back her chair, and stood up. “Rif, how about you kids go take a walk while Roby and I have a nice chat about grown-up matters.”
“Is it still snowing?” But I knew perfectly well that it was. “They could just stroll around inside the barn, and Maura could decide which sharp-edged, long-toothed demon there she’d most like to fuck her in her dreams.”
Maura managed to stifle a smartass retort. Rif stifled a smile, then went to stand beside Sig with head meekly bent, speaking softly, before leading Maura away. Sigri and I moved into the cozy living room to sit by the fire and savor our after-dinner port, like any Old Country lords of the manor. Except that, instead of port, we savored excellent home-brewed mead a friend had given Sig and Rif at Christmas.
While Sig bent to pour a little of the golden elixir into my genuine bull-horn cup set in its own wrought iron stand, I felt her closeness with a jolt that startled me. In the old days, no matter what girl I was with, if Sig was in the room, I was more aware of her than of anyone else. Comradeship, sure, but I couldn’t deny that there’d been an intensely sensual element as well. Now she was so close I could have reached out and touched her breast, guarded now only by flannel instead of the leather apron.
“Your work?” I switched my gaze quickly to the elaborate Celtic swirls of the cup stand. “And this?” I ran a finger over the spiraling dragon shape carved into the horn cup in exquisite detail.
“The metalwork, sure. The carving is all Rif’s, though. She’s an incredible artist, hands steady, fingers strong and flexible, every stroke precise…”
Sig might or might not have seen the slight quirk of my eyebrow. The reddening of her face might or might not have been due to a sudden flare-up of the fire. She went on in hurry, “She did these in the tenth-century Norwegian Ringerike style, but she can do just about anything.”
“She’s really amazing, isn’t she? I hope Maura isn’t giving her a rough time.” If Rif had been dazzled by the October photo shoot and “all for” some D/s play between Sig and Maura, it would be a shame if Maura’s rudeness shattered her fantasies.
“Don’t worry. Rif can take care of herself, and then some. She—” Sig shook her head. “Well, enough about that. Tell me more about Maura. Did she really let you make a mark on her precious skin?”
“You might put it that way. It’s not just vanity. Her agency takes out insurance on every inch of her, and at the slightest marking, the agency collects and she gets fired. It’s a clause from the days before everything and anything could be photoshopped, but they still demand it. Sometimes she really, really wants to be marked and hurt, to feel like a real person instead of a very expensive commodity. Even dreams of a scar on the face that the world sees so it will be all her own again. But she doesn’t want any of that enough to give up the life she has, and she trusts me to take her almost as far as she wants to go without going over the edge.”
Sigri was shaking her head by the end of my revelations. I picked up my drinking horn and took a sip of mead. “As you said, that’s enough about that. Too much, in fact.” Another sip. “Hey, this is really fine stuff! Smooth and intense. Wish we’d had something this good back in the day.”
“Nah, we’d’ve been too dumb to appreciate it.” She sank down on the couch by my side, took a longer sip than I had, licked her lips, and looked slantwise at me. “We were too dumb to appreciate a hell of a lot.”
“No kidding.” I raised my horn. Hers met it halfway. “Here’s to our wasted youth.”
A few more sips of mead later, I was on the verge of blurting out a maudlin confession, but Sig beat me to it.
“That pool.” She looked into the fireplace, not at me. “That day…”
I finished for her. “We bushwhacked off the Slippery Brook trail, discovered that huge gorgeous pool, and went skinny-dipping. The goddess place, I called it, and you told me not to go all woo-woo.”
“But you did. And you scrambled naked back up that rock to where we’d left our stuff before we jumped off, got your camera, and yammered on about how the rocks on each side of the little waterfall looked like spread thighs, and the knobby stone in between with moss on it was the pussy, and the—the water of life, I think you said, was pouring into the sacred pool.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s what I said. And you dived into the deepest part and came up with handfuls of pebbles that you kept throwing at me while I tried to get pictures from just the right angle.”
“Well, maybe I was as bad as your Maura at foreplay when it came to somebody like you. Girly types, no problem, but you? I figured you’d either laugh in my face or punch it if I made a move.”
I shook my head in self-disgust. “And I just kept on yammering to keep from jumping you and getting slammed for it. Talk about dumb kids! When you got fed up and left, I was desperate for the chance to jerk off, fantasizing about what it would feel like to be in a clinch with you.”
“Hah! I only made it to that other stream coming out of the beaver pond before my hand was in my pants. If you’d caught up with me then…”
I reached for the decanter of mead, poured us each a little more, and raised my horn again. “Well, here’s to the years of steamy dreams inspired by the sight of you naked in that pool.” Just as well not to reveal that I’d snapped a picture of her from behind that day, right when her muscular body arched, butt high, into the dive that got her those pebbles to throw at me. I’d carried a print of the photo around with me until I literally wore it out.
We were half facing each other by that time, up close. Somehow my left hand had reached over to her nearest thigh, and her right hand had done the same to me.
“You know that time when we arm wrestled a couple of nights later?” Sig’s grip on my thigh tightened. “The only time you ever beat me? Shouldn’t count as a win. I only lost because I was so distracted remembering how you’d looked naked, like a tougher, stronger version of those nymphs in old paintings. But I paid for that round of drinks anyway.”
“No kidding? I thought I only won because I was so mad at myself for thinking of you in pretty much the same way, and the adrenaline gave me extra strength.”
“A rematch? Not a chance. I’ve been hiking and toting my camera gear over some pretty rough terrain, but you’ve been hammering iron. No contest.” I set my cup back on its stand on an end table to free up a hand so I could grip her bicep for emphasis—and for something more. But Rif’s dragon carved into the horn seemed to be looking right at me. I paused. “Rif…” I said uncertainly, and as though the name worked a magic spell, the outside door opened and Rif herself came in. A brief gust of cold air blew right through the entrance hall, past the dining room, and into our cozy fireside haven.
She came right to Sigri, looked for a moment as though she were going to kneel before her, then thought better of it and just bent her head. “Excuse me, but Maura thinks it’s getting too cold in the barn with the forge turned so low, and anyway, I started up the fire in the sauna hut a while ago, like you said I could, and it should be getting nearly hot enough.”
“You still use the sauna? Great!” I hadn’t moved my hand from Sig’s thigh, so I gave her a squeeze, which she returned with interest. “All those rocks we dragged up from the river and the logs we cut!”
“We’ve upgraded it a bit since then, but yeah, the same old place. We use it quite a bit, and this time I’m pretty sure Rif thinks it’ll be the easiest way to get Maura’s clothes off.”
Maura herself came in just in time to hear that last part. “The fastest way, at least,” she said companionably, and from the look she exchanged with Rif, I figured they were up to something. If it got us all naked in the sauna, it was definitely a step in the right direction. And if they were in it together, I didn’t need to worry. Right?
“Upgraded” was an understatement. Besides the structural improvements, there were birchwood benches with armrests carved like voluptuous mermaids, leering gargoyle heads at the ends of the towel bars, and the coatracks where we hung our clothes looked like giant sets of antlers with minidragons twining through them. Not that I noticed all these details right away in the shock of coming into intense heat out of the cold and snow outside and then the delirious distraction of such a variety of naked bodies.
Maura’s delectable form was, of course, familiar to me, far more than it was to viewers of her photos even in bikini ads. Rif’s slim body seemed more graceful in the freedom of nakedness than it had clothed; she could easily have been a sprite or nymph out of mythology, and her open smile and gleaming eyes gave her face a kind of elfin beauty.
Sigri…I’d seen her naked often enough in this same sauna years ago, but now I hardly dared look at her, and when I did, a flush of heat beyond anything the fire pit could produce swept through me. We’d both changed over the years, Sig with somewhat more flesh and a lot more muscle, me with some shifting of what flesh and muscle I had in spite of gym workouts when I’d lived in the city and strenuous trekking once I’d switched my focus to wilderness themes; but I’d never needed so intensely to get my hands on her. And in her. I could already feel her eyes on me, sharing that hunger.
But we both glanced toward Rif, who stood between Maura’s spread legs gazing down at the shaved, smooth pussy on display. “That’s the mark?” Rif said. “What does it mean?”
Sig went to look, too, with a lingering stroke across my flank as she passed me. I knew what they saw on that triangle of smooth skin just low enough to be covered by the skimpiest bikini bottom; four tiny curving arcs, not quite meeting, formed a delicate circle like a secret mandala. Maura just smiled mysteriously and leaned far back, her long hair flowing downward, her face clean of makeup, beads of sweat beginning to show between her breasts, looking more beautifully alive than any fashion ad could ever show.
We were all sweating by then. Rif took down two of the birch switch bundles hanging on the wall, laid one across Maura’s lap, then approached Sigri with bowed head. “May I be of service?” she asked in a low, formal tone. Sigri looked toward me, shrugged, and took a position facing the wall with her hands braced against it. Maura was suddenly there beside me with her own bundle of switches, gesturing at me to do the same. I went along with it. We’d done this same sort of thing in the old days, ratcheting it up well beyond the traditional therapeutic usage. The idea of letting Maura use the switches on me was a bit disturbing, but at least it might distract me from the urge to shove Sigri hard against the wall and rub myself against her.
Apparently Rif knew all about the ratcheting-up part, and so did Maura. The sting of the pliant birch twigs went up and down my back, lingered on my ass, then traveled down my legs and up again, over and over, more stimulating the harder they struck. All I could think of beyond my own throbbing backside was how red Sigri’s must be, and how hot to the touch.
Sweat ran down my face, between my breasts, along my spine, between my ass cheeks, and down my inner thighs, although I couldn’t be sure how much of that last substantial trickle was sweat and how much wild arousal. Any second I would pull back, turn around, get to Sig—but just before I tensed to move, another movement distracted me—Rif darting between our arched bodies and the wall. Suddenly a rope was pulling me toward Sig and winding around her as well while Maura shoved me from behind so that I faced Sig and Rif tugged at the crossed rope ends so that Sig faced me.
We had to clutch at each other to keep from stumbling, and then the clutching seemed like such a good idea that I dug my fingers into the clenched muscles of her butt while she yanked me by my shoulder blades hard up against her big breasts. Resistance was so futile, it ceased to exist.
The girls wrapped more of the rope around us, but we scarcely noticed. Sigri’s mouth tasted of fine mead, and mine must have, too, but however intoxicating that contact was, there were other places that needed tasting. I licked sweat from the hollow of her throat and then down between and around her breasts while she kneaded my back and as far along my birch-switched ass as she could reach until she pushed my torso back enough to work her tongue and teeth down my chest to my belly.
Standing ceased being an option. The rope loosened, and a burst of steam swept over us. Someone, probably Rif, had poured water on the white-hot stones of the fire pit. As the steam cloud rose upward, Sig and I rolled on the floor, where there was slightly more air, first one on top, then the other, one knee thrusting and sliding between the other’s sweaty thighs until the positions reversed. Finally Sig growled “Dammit, Roby!” and held me down with her greater weight. What the heck, she was the host here. I let her big hand work into where I needed it most, arching my hips to meet her thrusts with equal force. A wave that had been building for over twenty years swelled, crested, and crashed down over me, through me.
In its ebb, still quivering and scarcely able to breathe, I swung above her, grabbed onto her wide hips, and went at her with tongue and mouth and teeth and, for all I know, nose and chin until she was as spent and breathless as I was. With all the meager strength we had left, we pulled each other upright, hands sliding along our sweaty bodies, and made for the door.
The snow was powdery, deep, and searingly cold on our superheated flesh. Just what we needed. We rolled together, still hot where our bodies pressed together, melting mystical runes into the white surface touched by our backs. When we finally chased each other back into the lingering heat of the sauna hut, Maura and Rif passed us, laughing, on their way out. Whatever they’d been up to, which wasn’t hard to guess, they’d clearly had a fine time.
Later, dressed again and heading back toward the house, Maura tugged me aside along the path to the barn. “Don’t you want to know which demon I picked for my dream lover?”
The others followed us into the dim space, now only slightly warmed by the embers in the forge and lit only by a single naked light bulb by the door. Maura proceeded along rows of strange figures made even eerier by the shadows. She paused once in front of a creature with a horned helmet, long braid made of straw-colored rope and sled-runner arms holding a shield made from a woodstove door embossed with a dragon silhouette, considered for a moment, then shrugged and moved on.
She stopped at last before a figure in the corner, limbs constructed from tent poles, one hand a saw-toothed adze blade used in ice climbing, and the other with a single digit, seven thick inches of spiral-machined, nickel-plated steel rod. She touched the tip of her own delicate finger to the tip of that rod where four tiny curving arcs of metal, not quite meeting, formed a delicate circle like a secret mandala.
“I might as well stick with this one,” she said casually.
“An ice screw! I knew it!” Sigri muttered behind us. Rif tugged at her gently and led her away, maybe thinking Maura and I would have some kind of tender interlude.
What actually happened was that Maura said, almost as casually, “I got a call yesterday from my agent, right before you picked me up at the airport. She said I got that movie role I was after. Not a lead, just the “bad girl” character, but terrific exposure. We’ll be shooting mostly on location in France and Switzerland.”
“Good going, kid,” I said, and put a comradely arm across her shoulders. We didn’t have anything close to what Sigri and Rif had, and that was fine with me. Maura three or four times a year was about all I could handle, and if she really needed me in between, she knew that I’d come. Even from Patagonia.